In response to Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer's Dec. 3 letter ("Community Commentary: Why Costa Mesa should become a charter city") on why Costa Mesa should become a charter city, I have the following comments.
Contrary to Costa Mesa's history of thriving, I was particularly struck by his claim that Costa Mesa will not be able to thrive unless we "free ourselves from the way union-backed politicians in Sacramento want our city to run and bring more local control — and common sense — to Costa Mesa."
Evidently, for Righeimer, it has always been about the unions, and now he has identified another enemy: the politicians in Sacramento. These are interesting comments that appeal to our emotions, but few facts or analytical discussion are offered.
I have looked for a charter city pros and cons report on the Costa Mesa city website, but I have not found one. However, I did find a report, "The Benefits of Becoming a Charter City," prepared for the city of Rancho Palos Verdes in July of 2010. That proposal was voted down 70% to 30% in March 2011.
The report reveals several risks associated with charter cities, but I want to specifically address the issue of prevailing-wage law that Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer raised in his letter.
The following is a quote from the above report:
"Historically, charter cities have not been bound by state law prevailing-wage requirements so long as the project is a municipal affair, and not one funded by state or federal grants. Vial v. City of San Diego,122 Cal. App. 3d 346,348 (1981). However, there is a growing trend on the part of the courts and the Legislature to expand the applicability of prevailing wages to charter cities under an analysis that argues that the payment of prevailing wages is a matter of statewide concern. The California Supreme Court declined an opportunity to resolve the issue. See City of Long Beach v. Dept of Indus. Relations, 34 Cal. 4th 942 (2004)."
When issues become a statewide concern they fall outside of the municipal affairs that a charter city can control and because the court declined to resolve the issue there may be court cases in the future which could entangle Costa Mesa.
Another concern is that raised in Joseph Serna's Dec. 3 Daily Pilot article ("Righeimer to propose charter initiative") on the charter proposal. The article indicates that in order to get the issue on the June ballot, the council will write the charter because it would take too long to elect commission members who would write the charter. Books on decision-making say that justifying actions based on an exaggerated sense of urgency usually result in poor decisions.
So here we have Righeimer, who has handled the layoffs poorly and has left some of us with little confidence in him and the majority on the council (I voted for Righeimer), proposing a city charter primarily for the purpose of dissolving a self-inflicted legal problem that includes legal expenses that are affecting the city budget, to do this quickly without a commission, and to take on the risks of future prevailing wage litigation.
I don't think this proposal is best for Costa Mesa. However, I do think it is time to swallow some council and union pride and start negotiating seriously to resolve the problems between the city, its employees, and their union.
CHARLES MOONEY lives in Costa Mesa.